How to Thermal Your RC Glider
January 20, 2020 4:12 PM   Subscribe

three, you slowly spread your wings, and four you catch the wind. windhunter.


posted by gorestainedrunes at 4:25 PM on January 20 [3 favorites]

I've ridden the thermals over the Santa Ynez mountains in a 2-person glider. You can really feel the lift under you when you enter the thermal. It's a very different experience than being in a single engine plane.
posted by TrialByMedia at 7:29 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]

This post is relevant to my interests!

Thermals are interesting things to try to catch. Sometimes they start from the ground, sometimes they start in mid-air, often times they're moving through the sky in 3 dimensions. Asphalt radiates heat, thermals can often be found starting in boundaries between field and road. Clouds form following thermals too - full scale folks speak of cloud highways, where you see puffy lines of clouds in various states of formation all in a line. Some thermals dissipate quickly, others stay strong for ages (watch your battery!).

You can really see it if you catch a thermal in an RC glider, in light lift you can tell by asymmetric wing wag or a slightly flatter glide slope, in booming lift the glider just won't come down.

Be careful following birds. Many that catch thermals are birds of prey, and may decide your expensive glider is an enemy. Depending on where you live, flying near them may constitute harassment, especially if you have a powered (motor) glider and the bird is a protected species.

Not all lift is generated by the effects of temperature resulting in rising air columns, you can also get lift from a slope facing the wind. As the wind comes in, it rises with the shape of the slope, and you can catch that rising air. A lot more reliable than trying to hunt for thermals, but due to the nature of the flying setup, landing is typically an exciting crosswind event.

Fun fact: the RC slope soarers are among the fastest things you can fly. Here's one clocking over 870 kph on wind power alone.
posted by theony at 9:36 PM on January 20 [5 favorites]

I grew up flying gliders.

It's pretty common to find a thermal by seeing birds already using it.

After a while, you learn to rank the abilities of different birds a bit. Seagulls are dumb, and will fly round in circles in pretty much anything, often barely gaining any lift, but seem to be happy to follow a flock of others doing the same.

Birds of prey are much more discerning, and a better bet to follow. The bigger they are, the lazier they are, and the better they seem to be at finding the best lift.

You knew you were really doing well when you found the thermal first, and a bird would see you climbing and come and join you.

I liked to fly old, slow, lightweight wooden gliders that could climb while turning tightly in a narrow core at barely thirty knots airspeed.

I have a vivid memory of a large buzzard that just held station off my wingtip on the inside of the turn, so close that he seemed almost tucked under my wing as we climbed together for several minutes, glancing across at each other.

I often wondered what they thought of us huge, strange birds.
posted by automatronic at 3:58 AM on January 21 [9 favorites]

The most incredible experience of my life was sharing a thermal with a hawk over the mountains in Marana, AZ, in an old 2-33. I was post-solo, pre-license, and just practicing airwork. It's long ago enough now that I don't remember all the details, but I remember I'd cored a pretty strong thermal, and this little feathered guy pulled in about opposite me, and we went around together several times before he out-climbed me, got bored, and flew off. I'm not doing it justice, but, clearly, automatronic gets it.

I miss soaring. Got out of it when I moved to LA and everything was hours and hours away, but now I live about an hour from a pretty well-known club. Been meaning to look them up. Might have to.
posted by Alterscape at 7:04 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]

theony: Fun fact: the RC slope soarers are among the fastest things you can fly. Here's one clocking over 870 kph on wind power alone.

I knew about sailing faster than the wind, but I didn't know about gliding ten times the speed of the wind. Wow!

Apparently the albatross uses the same technique.
posted by clawsoon at 7:04 AM on January 21

> I often wondered what they thought of us huge, strange birds.

I was flying my hang glider in ridge lift when I noticed a hawk below me rapidly gaining altitude. When he reached my level he spread his primary feathers and tail feathers, as birds do to lower their stall speed when landing. While maintaining position relative to me, he looked at me. After a few seconds, he put his feathers back in flight position to continue climbing rapidly.

What did he think? I believe he was laughing at me.
posted by Homer42 at 9:58 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]

What did he think? I believe he was laughing at me.

Yeah, I believe he was.

I mean, I've done more or less the same thing, chuckling whilst merrily outclimbing some big open class glider that's lumbering around the edges of a thermal with a half-mile turn radius, loaded down with a couple of portly instructors and tanks full of ballast.

Of course, the laughs always quickly went the other way when they whizzed past me as I struggled upwind to the next turnpoint.
posted by automatronic at 11:44 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]

When I went to Simon Fraser U in the 80s, there was someone who would fly his rc glider on warm evenings on the west side of Burnaby Mountain. It was very relaxing to watch. [Checks list of Retirement Activities; adds 'rc glider']
posted by sneebler at 2:26 PM on January 26

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